(Investigator 190, 2020 January)
Atlantis was the name of a continent with a civilization and great cities which
all sank into the ocean amidst great earthquakes about 9000 BC.
For centuries obsessive amateurs, sometimes called Atlantologists, have
tried to find Atlantis or prove it existed, seeking clues in ancient
texts, archaeological and oceanographic discoveries, and complex
To simplify a never-ending story I'll state the conclusion right now before continuing:
The conclusion is that the legend has no scientific support. The
original source of the story, Greek philosopher Plato, did not intend
Atlantis to be taken literally and no archaeological or geological
remains, monuments, or artefacts, pointing to Atlantis have ever been
discovered. The painstaking, scientific work and research of genuine
geologists, oceanographers, archaeologists and palaeontologists over
the past two centuries have not identified any place, location or
ancient ruins that support the Atlantis legend.
There were cities in the past that sank beneath the waves, or were
destroyed by volcanoes, tsunamis, earthquakes or even asteroid impacts
— but nothing is confirmed that corresponds to the Atlantic legend.
Origin of The Legend
The origin of the Atlantis legend is Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 BCE). We do not have an earlier reference or source.
In Plato's books of dialogues titled Timaeus and Critias (the latter
unfinished) Critias describes the visit of Solon, an Athenian
politician, to Egypt. Critias in the Timaeus says he heard the story of
Atlantis as a child from a 90-year-old relative who got the story from
In Egypt religious leaders told Solon about Atlantis. They portrayed
Atlantis as a vast island beyond Gibraltar in the Atlantic
Ocean with a technologically advanced civilization. The Atlanteans conquered all the lands of the Western
Mediterranean. Their power ended 9000 years earlier, in a mere one day
and one night, when earthquakes destroyed the cities, and the island sank
beneath the waves, and the people including the military forces
In the 19th and 20th centuries a lot of Ancient Egyptian history and
myths were deciphered and translated from hieroglyphics — but nothing
Plato made up the story of the priestly history lesson about Atlantis,
to use the idea of Atlantis to portray an ideal society. Aristotle
(384-382 BC), a student of Plato at Plato's academy, does not support
belief in a literal Atlantis.
Some Proposed Locations
Many locations of Atlantis have been proposed, getting more incredulous
as obvious possibilities west of the Mediterranean were ruled out.
Locations suggested or defended by different writers include:
Swedish professor/anatomist/linguist Olaus Rudbeck (1630-1702) wrote
3000 pages in four volumes titled Atlantica to prove Sweden is Atlantis.
Suggested by French astronomer/mathematician J.S. Bailly (1736-1793).
West of Spain and Morocco
10,000 years ago sea levels were 100 metres lower than now and an
island of 8000 square miles which is now submerged was then above sea
level. Since Atlantis was supposed to be a continent, this submerged
island seems too small to qualify. Furthermore, no remains of a
civilization have been discovered there.
The Azores islands 1300km west of Portugal are a popular guess for
Atlantis due to their mid-Atlantic location. The miracle healer and
prophet Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), for example, "found" Atlantis in this area by
seeing visions: "While oceanographers, geologists, and ordinary
sea-divers have been fanning out over the Atlantic for centuries in the
underwater quest, Edgar Cayce merely went to sleep, and saw visions of
a magic continent which went through three periods of breakup, the last
some eleven or twelve thousands years ago." (Stean 1968)
A lost bronze-age city named Tantalis supposedly existed in the Kingdom
of Lydia (Western Turkey) and sank beneath the surrounding land. Some
connect this story with Atlantis because it has the same letters in its
name. Peter James' book Trouble with Atlantis: The Sunken Kingdom
advocates Tantalis as Atlantis in great detail but gets a negative
review in New Scientist (November 18, 1995).
Crete is a favourite contender as Atlantis. In the 17th century BC the
Minoan civilization on Crete, possibly the most advanced civilization
of that era, perished when a volcano exploded and unleashed a massive
tsunami. This much is history, but the identification with Atlantis
doesn't wash because Plato's Atlantis was submerged 9000 years before
Plato lived not 1200 years. Proponents for Crete have to argue that
Plato exaggerated various numbers by nine or ten times.
American Robert Samast in 2004 claimed Atlantis lies on the sea floor in the eastern Mediterranean.
Scilly Islands — Celtic Sea
This is west of Land's End (the most south-westerly point of England)
and about 120 to 140 metres below today's sea-surface. Another
location, proposed by Soviet searchers in 1997, is 100km north-west of
the Scilly Islands where the depth of the sea is 35 metres. (Mark F.A.
Furze, Fortean Times, No. 132, p. 52)
The Antarctica hypothesis imagines that the slow drift of Earth's
continents by a few centimetres per year occasionally speeds up into
violent convulsions. One such violent episode 11,000 years ago pushed
Atlantis thousands of miles south to Antarctica.
This was announced in 2011 in a film documentary. Atlantis is
supposedly located in wetlands north of Cadiz (on Spain's south coast)
and was swamped by a giant tsunami which swept inland.
Atlantis existed almost anywhere. Some other proposed locations and/or
announcements of discovery include Malta (1854); Heligoland (1953);
Finland (1985); Bolivia (1998); Troy (1992); Cyprus (2004); Ireland
(2004); Canary Islands (2009).
Other Mythical Kingdoms
Atlantis is merely one mythical kingdom among many. Some others are:
Avalon is a supposed lost kingdom in south-west England inhabited by
fairies and Druids to where King Arthur was taken to die after being
fatally wounded in his final battle. Avalon is commonly linked to
An area, now submerged, that once connected the coast of Cornwall at Land's End with the Scilly Islands in the Atlantic.
Tir na n'Og
An ancient city off the Bay of Galway on the west coast of Ireland now beneath the sea.
A lost continent now at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean — mentioned by Colin Wilson in From Atlantis to the Sphinx.
A city of gold in northern South America. In the 16th century native
Indians observed that the Spanish conquistadors were after gold and may
have invented El Dorado to get the Spanish to move on.
A paradise-like valley in northern Tibet, shielded by high mountain
ranges, where people live exceptionally long and healthy lives.
An ancient continent that sank beneath the Indian Ocean. Biologists
used to interpret similar fauna and flora near the coasts of India and
East Africa as evidence for a one-time land-bridge. Around 1970,
however, the evidence for slow continental drift became decisive —
there is no sunken continent or land bridge in the Indian Ocean.
Prester John was the king of a Christian kingdom in Africa, a haven
surrounded by Muslim kingdoms. Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator
(1394-1460) encouraged the story to promote exploration and navigation
by Portuguese sailors. East Africa did have Christian areas that
resisted Muslim inroads for a thousand years, most obviously Ethiopia,
but a "Prester John" is unconfirmed.
These are an area which includes the Canary Islands said by Homer (8th
century BC Greek poet/story-teller) to be a temperate and lush paradise
where the souls of the dead go.
Stephen Kershaw's A Brief History of Atlantis Plato's Ideal State
(2018) discusses Plato's writings and finds that Plato was trying to
formulate a philosophy of politics and invented Atlantis for that
purpose. Plato then gave up the idea of Atlantis, leaving the Critias
unfinished and did not even start an intended third dialogue titled
Apparently Plato found the fable of Atlantis unsuitable for his
political philosophy and instead went on to write Republic and Laws.
The ancients did not know what lay beyond the Strait of Gibraltar.
There was trade with Britain and coastal shipping along north and
north-west Africa but ships stayed close to the coasts. The Atlantic
was therefore an ideal space for Plato to position an imaginary
continent since no one could refute it. 20th century oceanographers of
course have shown that there was no continent in the Atlantic.
The story, however, so caught the imagination, besides being a reminder
of real empires and cities that did exist and perished, that people
just wanted to believe. The Atlantis saga was retold and retold and
often embellished through the centuries.
In the 18th century Plato's writings became widely known and
speculation went wild. A. Antonello writes: "In the second half of the
18th century Atlantis was considered the cradle of the civilization."
Perhaps the great Lisbon (Portugal) earthquake and tsunami of 1755
which killed about 50,000 people demonstrated the possibility of an
Atlantis-type event. Many writers also linked Atlantis to the biblical
flood story of Noah.
Scientists, occultists, story tellers and attention seekers began to
argue for Atlantis in the Atlantic Ocean and then almost anywhere from
the Arctic to Antarctic.
Foundations of 20th Century Atlantology
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a German philosopher, considered Tibet the
birth place of civilization founded by the Aryan master race.
Others took this up and connected Atlantis people with Tibetans via migrations after Atlantis sank.
Charles-Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg (1814-1874) was a French
historian, traveller and archaeologist who specialized in Mesoamerican
studies particularly the Mayas and Aztecs. However, in two books
published in 1862 and 1868 he went from science to imagination by
arguing that Atlantis was the common centre that linked the Mayan and
Egyptian civilizations and provided communication between them. The
1868 book gave a history of Atlantis based on interpretations of Mayan
myths. Few if any contemporary scholars accepted his hypotheses.
Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901), US congressman and amateur scientist, relied for evidence on Bourbourg and authored Atlantis: The Antediluvian World
(1882). Donnelly believed Atlantis lay under the Atlantic Ocean and
argued that Atlantean-Aryan migrations established some of the great,
Russian mystic Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891), founder of the
Theosophical Society, published an imaginative, pseudo-scientific work
of two volumes titled The Secret Doctrine
(1888). Blavatsky claimed humans are descended from seven original
races one of which originated on Atlantis. She created a migration myth
in which survivors of Atlantis settled in Tibet, and established a
kingdom called Shangri-La. Here the Aryan race emerged and spread
westward to Europe and became the Germanic people.
Lewis Spence (1874-1955), Scottish journalist and occult scholar, wrote
five books on Atlantis in the 1920s based on the writings of Donnelly.
And there were many others.
Nazi Expedition 1938-1939
The Atlantis myth contributed to the Nazi ideology that certain "races" are inferior and worthy of extermination.
In 1938 a scientific expedition of five German scientists, members of
Germany's SS (security organization), was sent by Heinrich Himmler —
chief of police and one of the main Nazi leaders after Adolf Hitler —
Himmler believed Tibet to be the origin of the Aryan race, the tall,
superior, blue-eyed, fair-haired Nordic people of northern Europe but
wanted scientific confirmation.
The five scientists were also members of Nazi Germany's Ahnenerbe
or Ancestral Heritage Organization. This was founded by Himmler in 1935
to discover scientific support for Nazi racial theories. The aim of Ahnenerbe researchers was to investigate the origin of the Aryan race via archaeology and anthropology.
Besides Kant and Blavatsky there were other authors both English and
German who embellished the supposed connection of the Nordic people to
the racially superior Atlanteans. Alfred Rosenberg (1893-1946), a Nazi
Party ideologue, added and promoted the premise that inferior races
such as the Jews had constantly opposed the efforts of Atlantis
survivors and their descendants to spread civilization.
These ideas became popular in Germany and were accepted by Heinrich
Himmler who was a member of the German extension of Helena Blavatsky's
Himmler sent the 1938 expedition to Tibet to find scientific support
for the racist beliefs and racial policies that the Nazis already had.
This, the expedition failed to find, certainly nothing about Atlantis
or Atlantean migrations.
However, the mere occurrence of an investigative expedition composed of
qualified scientists gave Nazi racist theories some respectability and
plausibility, at least in Germany.
From Solon to Plato
Critias in the Timaeus says he heard about Atlantis as a child from a
90-year-old relative who got the story from Solon. The only Critias
mentioned in biographical dictionaries lived 460-403 BC. He was an
Athenian lawyer and politician. If we assume Critias was a child when
his 90-year-old relative told him the Atlantis story then the old
relative was born about 540 BCE. Solon lived 640-559 BC. He was an
Athenian lawmaker who reformed the constitution, set free all people
who had been enslaved for debt, reformed the currency, and laid the
foundation for Athenian democracy. This historical Solon also spent 10
years in exile including time in Egypt.
However, the numbers don't work out. By my arithmetic Solon died before
the 90-year-old relative was born. It appears Plato chose Solon as his
source for the Atlantis legend because Greek readers would remember the
social reformation Solon initiated, and mentally link this with the
ideal Atlantean society that Plato intended to describe.
Even if we assume that the various transfers of the Atlantis-story from
Egyptian priests to Solon, Solon to Critias' 90-year-old relative, the
old relative to Critias, and later somehow to Plato, actually took
place, Atlantis would still be only hearsay based on previous hearsay,
based on earlier hearsay, based on older hearsay. Plato offers nothing
substantial to back up the onetime existence of a literal Atlantis
Leonard (1979) argues for worldwide catastrophes around 10,000 BC when
Atlantis sunk 2 miles beneath the Atlantic Ocean. He claims that
Cro-Magnon people, who he says replaced Neanderthals in Europe and led
to modern Europeans, "were in reality Atlantean people." (p. 196)
Geneticists however reject this idea and find that humans originated in
Africa. The map of Atlantis on Leonard's front cover (oriented with south at
the top) is from Mundus Subterraneus (1664) authored by German Jesuit
scholar Athanasius Kircher.
Berlitz (1981) also argued for a literal Atlantis, and predicted a new Atlantis-type disaster to start in the 20th century.
Wilson (1996) argued that the Sphinx located near the pyramids is
10,000 years older than generally believed and was constructed by a
technologically advanced civilization.
These (and other authors), like earlier Atlantis proponents, bring
together many disparate facts and ideas in the areas of archaeology,
migrations, fossils, natural disaster records, linguistics, ancient
civilizations, planetary line-ups, geology and oceanography while
claiming that professionals in these studies got things wrong. Some
include in their arguments Hindu legends, ancient flood stories, and
flying saucers (even claiming Atlantean kings were human/alien
Some claim that Plato was not the first to mention Atlantis — they cite
Herodotus who wrote: "The sea frequented by the Greeks beyond the
Pillars of Hercules, which is called the Atlantic…" They claim
"Atlantic" here means Atlantis; but Herodotus refers to the "sea", not
to a continent or city. Another argument is based on the name
"Atalanta" who was a Greek princess who, according to legend, agreed to
marry any man who could beat her in a foot race. This is the general
standard of Atlantologists — they connect legends, myths, events and
names that have no plausible connection and come up with ideas whose
acceptance requires us to reject much of modern science
and ancient history.
For a history of charlatans and alternative facts on the topic of
Atlantis since the 19th century read Stephen Kershaw's A Brief History
of Atlantis Plato's Ideal State (2018).
Atlantis is unmentioned in ancient Greek and Egyptian writings and
mythology prior to Plato. Plato is the sole source and he gave no
reason to take Atlantis literally. Oceanographers have not found
Atlantis nor professional archaeologists any Atlantean artefacts, and
"Atlantologists" don't even agree where Atlantis was located. There
never was and at present still is no physical evidence of Atlantis.
Adams, M. 2015 Meet Me In Atlantis: My Obsessive Quest to find the Sunken City, Text Publishing
Beresford, J. The Nazis and the search for Atlantis, Minerva, May/June 2011, pp 46-49
Berlitz, C. 1969 The Mystery of Atlantis, Granada paperback
Furze, Mark F.A., Cornish Atlantis, Fortean Times, No. 132, p. 52
Kershaw. S.P. 2018 A Brief History of Atlantis Plato's Ideal State, Robinson
Leonard, R.C. 1979 Quest For Atlantis, Manor Books
Monk, P. Epic tale fails to hold water, The Weekend Australian Review, April 7-8, 2018, p.22
Stean, J. 1968 Edgar Cayce The Sleeping Prophet, Bantam Books, p. 224
Wilson, C. 1996 From Atlantis to the Sphinx, Virgin Books